Créme de la Kreme

Among the hundreds (thousands?) of commercial catchphrases that have taken up residence on the Madison Avenue inside my head is Dunkin’ Donuts’ “Time to make the doughnuts.”  Even all these years after that ad last aired on television, I can vividly recall the weariness with which the stalwart Dunkin’ employee delivered the line as he rose from his warm bed during the wee hours of the morning to make us the freshest, tastiest doughnuts that money could buy.  But surely he must have known – or should have – that his hard work was in vain.

In the world of doughnuts, as in all things in life, there is a hierarchy.  And at the top of the proverbial heap is the Original Glazed Krispy Kreme doughnut.  Hot.  If you have ever had one, you know exactly what I mean.  If you have not, curse the gods for your misfortune.

To me, Krispy Kreme is far more than a favorite treat, it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Both Krispy Kreme and I were born and bred in North Carolina.  I am from a small town near the South Carolina border; and the Krispy Kreme headquarters is in Winston-Salem.  I ate my first Krispy Kreme on my great-grandfather’s knee; he always kept a box of them in his freezer for me and my siblings.

My childhood crush on Krispy Kreme had blossomed into a full-blown love affair by the mid-1990s, when I was finishing my doctoral dissertation.  At that time I was a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of History at UNC-Chapel Hill and living on a diet that consisted mostly of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and orange seltzer water. My tiny apartment was across the street from a shopping center with a grocery store that received Kreme Kreme deIiveries every morning at 6:00 AM.  And, yes, during the struggle with my final dissertation chapter, I did occasionally fantasize about leaving academe and buying my own Krispy Kreme franchise. 

Krispy Kreme followed me into my UNC classroom, where its glazed perfection proved to be a powerful antidote to the formidable antipathy of undergraduates forced by the cruelty of the General Education Curriculum to endure the U.S. History survey.  For special occasions – project presentations and final exams – I drove seventy miles round-trip to the Krispy Kreme store in Raleigh and purchased several dozen fresh, hot doughnuts for my students.  I cannot say that Krispy Kreme made the presentations better or the exam scores higher, but perhaps its fluffy goodness improved my review on Rate My Professors.

 I left Chapel Hill for a teaching position in New Orleans; and it was there I learned that even Krispy Kreme was not invulnerable.  Much to my delight and surprise, a Krispy Kreme store opened in the heart of the French Quarter – a bold move in a city that was home to the world-famous Café du Monde.  Ultimately, the glazed interloper could not usurp the hallowed beignet in the hearts of the people; but before the store faded away like the last note of a jazz funeral, I managed to buy a set of red and green Krispy Kreme Mardi Gras beads, which featured a miniature glowing Krispy Kreme Hot Doughnuts sign.  I still have these beads.  The sign stopped blinking years ago; but the thought of getting rid of them is as foreign to me as pączki.

Krispy Kreme came to my rescue in the Spring of 2013, the year my mother died.  By this time I was living in Baltimore; and my mother was still in North Carolina.  A lifelong smoker, my mother was now suffering from cancer; and the disease had progressed to the point that the only thing that the doctors could do was administer medication for pain.  When I got the call that the end was near, I jumped in my car for the long drive to the hospice center in Lumberton, North Carolina, the town where I was born – and where my mother was going to die.  As I drove my emotions careened from grief to anger to regret.  I was not ready for my mother to go, and certainly not like this.  Though I was determined to stop only for gas, I spotted the familiar “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign from the highway and pulled over for a cup of coffee and a couple of hot doughnuts.  The coffee was, as it always is, terrible.  (Think about it.  No one – NO ONE – ever waxes rhapsodic about Krispy Kreme coffee.)  But the doughnuts reminded me of happier days with my mother, when my only concern was whether I could convince her that a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts were a balanced meal.  Thus fortified by sugar and memory, I was able to continue my journey home, so that I could be there when my mother ended hers.

You are probably expecting me to argue for some profound connection between the circular nature of life and that of the Krispy Kreme doughnut.  Tempting, but no.  Indeed, I am much more prone to identify with the hole than anything else.  That said, Krispy Kreme does remind me that sometimes the world can be warm and sweet.  All we have to do is look for the flashing neon sign and pull over.